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Calexico High School graduation

June 14, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer, Dateline: Calexico
  • School board member Reynaldo Ayala (left) congratulates Calexico High School senior Valerie Ambriz after presenting her with her diploma during graduation ceremonies Thursday in Calexico. CUAUHTEMOC BELTRAN PHOTO
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Graduation from Calexico High School is one more move in Justino Ledesma's 19-year-long lifetime of perpetual motion.

The son of migrant field workers, Justino was taken out of his hometown of Mexicali as a youngster when his family traveled to Washington state to pick strawberries.

When he was old enough to work, he got in the fields himself during stays in California's San Joaquin Valley, then Calipatria, moving north and south and back again, living by the seasons, as his father did, as his grandfather had.

In 1997, five years after his family became naturalized citizens, his parents, Alfredo and Margarita Ledesma Hernandez, settled in Calexico and Justino started sixth grade at Kennedy Gardens Elementary and his father got a job as a truck driver.

For the first time in his life, Justino had a home base.

"It was tough when I was younger; struggling with English, not having family members in other cities," he said.

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In Calexico Justino found friends who had lived the life he had, moving from place to place, working at the crack of dawn. He made friends with fellow Mexicali natives.

"To me, like, my friends are from Mexicali. We share the same ideas," he said.

After spending two years at De Anza Junior High School, Justino moved on to Calexico High School.

On Thursday, Justino, and more than 450 of his fellow Calexico High seniors participated in this year's graduation ceremony.

Co-salutatorian Me Ching Mai told the assembled Bulldogs that the pressure and hard times they experienced leading to graduation helped them mature. She said they were getting ready to set off on a journey and she wished that all would walk the road of success.

Me Ching's fellow salutatorian, Luis Liang, said he had been afraid of public school when he started at Calexico High because he is an Asian minority.

"But I never met any racism," he said.

Luis said, "Calexico is full of the best and nicest people I've ever known."

The crowd received that compliment warmly.

Co-valedictorian Bai Chen said Thursday was a good day for a number of reasons.

"Mexico made it to the second round of the World Cup and we're graduating tonight!" he enthused.

Bai said Calexico's seniors had nothing to fear as they prepared to take on the world.

"Don't worry. You are not alone. I too am afraid of confronting new challenges," he said.

Bai finished by thanking God and his parents, "who loved me unconditionally," he said.

A chorus of "Awwws" echoed over Ward Field.

Co-valedictorian Brandon Bunke-Quintero wrapped up the student speeches by quoting Roman poet Horace and striking a proudly patriotic tone.

"We are the future of the world's strongest nation," he said.

Brandon urged, "We must come together as proud Bulldogs … from a small border town, blazing a trail wherever we go!"

Commencement speaker Dr. Eduardo Aceves, a CHS alum, said he was proud of the valedictorians and salutatorians.

"They already have the bite of education. They've discovered the elixir," he said.

Aceves, using his own background as an example, said it was not too late for all of the other graduates who maybe had not yet found the same elixir. He said they could do anything they wanted by taking advantage of their wings and never forgetting their roots,

"Those are the things your parents give you, wings and roots, wings and roots," he said.

In the middle of Justino's first year at Calexico High, his father died from complications after liver surgery. His death broke up Justino's pleasingly static existence and forced him to start moving again, but now faster than before.

During his junior year, Justino took a job at the Camarena Memorial Library while looking after his mother and his younger brother. He started studying harder, actively trying to raise his grades. He didn't have time for school sports teams or parties. He was always too busy, always had something to do.

In his senior year, he worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Calexico East Port of Entry, mailed piles of applications to various colleges and drove his mother back and forth to San Diego for medical treatments.

Calexico High School migrant counselor Esther Gutierrez said she has seen a remarkable change in Justino since the beginning of his senior year.

"He was a really shy young man. I would make the calls to the university for him. Now he makes his own calls. He's very consistent in what he wants to do," she said.

Justino said he started focusing on his studies and taking on more responsibilities when he realized he was the man of the house. He had to be the role model for his 13-year-old brother, Rene.

The pressure is sometimes hard to bear.

"Yeah, sometimes I feel like giving up — but I keep on studying and working," he said.

He credits his counselors for helping him stay focused, including outreach counselor Lupita Avendaño, and his teachers, particularly government instructor Victor Carrillo and math instructor Linda Lacaze.

Justino has been accepted at three California State Universities but wants to go to CSU Northridge to study criminology and maybe become an FBI agent.

The other universities to which he was accepted are in Fresno and Sacramento. By studying in Northridge he'll be close enough to come visit his mom and brother. That means he'll be making some five-hour trips to Calexico on Friday afternoons.

Justino won't be one of the guys cursing the engineer who designed Interstate 10 while sitting in bumper car traffic, though. For Justino it will be just one more trip.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or aclaverie@aol.com.

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